Beauty and the Beast Review- A Classic Reborn
Production Companies: Mandeville Films, Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Bill Condon
Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos
In 1991, Walt Disney released what is now an animated classic film telling “a tale as old as time” and introducing a new character in their long line of Disney princesses. Beauty and the Beast told the tale of Belle, the bookworm daughter of inventor Maurice, who becomes the prisoner of the Beast in his enchanted castle. The Beast was once a prince, and was cursed by an enchantress. The curse extended to the castle’s staff, turning them into household objects. The Beast needed to find someone to love him and break the curse before the final petal of a rose encased in a crystal jar fell. We all know how things turned out, and the rest became part of Disney history and the film, with its mixture of hand drawn and computer animation, has become one of the most beloved Disney classics that ranks right up there with Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White.
Now, 26 years later, Disney revives this classic as a live action feature. Following on the success of other animated classics to live action movies like Cinderella(2015) and The Jungle Book(2016), director Bill Condon (Chicago) brings Beauty and the Beast to life. He’s helped by an impressive cast who all turn in terrific performances, both in their acting and their singing. Emma Watson (the Harry Potter franchise) is wonderful as Belle, and she does a fantastic job showing off her singing voice in the rousing number “Belle” as well as in “Something There”. Kevin Kline does a nice turn as her inventor father Maurice, and performs one of the new songs added in for the live action version (“How Does a Moment Last Forever”). Even Philip, the trusty family horse is back, carrying both Maurice and Belle to the Beast’s castle in spite of snow and wolves.
Dan Stevens delivers nicely as the tortured Beast, who is at first gruff and hostile towards Belle and later grows to be fond of her. His arc is handled believably and smoothly, and he gets to show off a range of emotions. His battle with the wolves while protecting Belle is just as thrilling as it was in the 1991 animated movie, yet Condon wisely keeps it from getting too brutal and approaching The Revenant territory. He alos gets to show off his comedic side as he prepares for a dance with Belle and in dealing with his enchanted staff. Speaking of the iconic dance scene, it’s handled beautifully, with Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts delivering a great rendition of the title song. It’s not a frame for frame replica, yet it carries the beauty and the tenderness of the scene all the same.
Beast’s enchanted staff is brought to life by some great CGI and wonderful performances by Ewan McGregor (Lumiere), Ian McKellen (Cogsworth), Thompson, and Nathan Mack (Chip). The musical number “Be Our Guest” is suitably entertaining, though it falls just a bit short of its animated counterpart. While it’s there in this film, the interplay between Lumiere and Cogsworth feels like it lost a little of its charm, though Chip and Mrs. Potts feel nearly equal to their animated counterparts. And that seems to be something affecting the entire movie, the fact that while it retains the story elements and delivers with the musical performances, that charm, so evident in the 1991 film, seems to not be as abundant here. Perhaps that could be a bit of bias on my part. After all, I’ve enjoyed watching the animated film on multiple occasions over the past 26 years, beginning when my daughter was a toddler. And it could be that certain whimsical features can only be delivered through animation, be it the quizzical looks on Beast’s face as Belle teaches him to get birds to eat out of his hand (a scene missing from this current version) or the expressions on the face of Philip the horse. It’s to Condon’s and the cast’s credit that much of the animated film’s magic did carry through to this live action edition.
Of course, every tale needs its villain, and Beauty and the Beast is no exception. Luke Evans is excellent as the smarmy and self obsessed Gaston, and Josh Gad is quite funny as his fawning side-kick, Lefou. His constant chasing after Belle is quite funny, as is Belle’s reaction to him. The pair’s performance of the song “Gaston” rivals that in the animated film, as does “The Mob Song”, which is conveyed with chilling effectiveness as Gaston leads the townspeople in an attack on the Beast’s castle. The violent fight between both Gaston and Beast carries with it all the excitement and suspense one would expect, despite knowing how it all needs to turn out. The aftermath of course leads into the transformative finale, leading to plenty of amusing reunions and the prerequisite happy ending.
One note needs to be mentioned of Lefou here. It’s been much ballyhooed that this is Disney’s first openly gay character shown on film, and that has prompted some negative reaction in some corners. The negativity truly is unwarranted. Lefou’s orientation was certainly hinted at in the 1991 animated film, and though a little more explicit here, it’s by far the tamest showing of an openly gay character I’ve seen. The one scene doesn’t even last for thirty seconds, and there isn’t even a gay kiss in it. It’s much adieu about nothing, an dI only mention it here because of the publicity surrounding it in the media.
In all, Beauty and the Beast continues the successful trend for animated classics transitioning to live action movies for Disney. The cast is excellent, with outstanding performances by Emma Watson and Luke Evans. The renditions of the familiar tunes are well done, though the new songs, while being good, aren’t quite as memorable. The expansion to the story works in the film’s favor, and it’s told with all the visual splendor this classic tale deserves. Beauty and the Beast is indeed a classic reborn, and well worth a trip to your local theater.
Beauty and the Beast Review- A Classic Reborn
- Great performances
- Terrific visual effects
- New songs fleshed out the animated classic
- New songs not as memorable